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School District Apologizes To Pete Seeger

From a delighted Associated Press:

Pete Seeger, center, Bruce Springsteen, right, and Seeger’s grandson Tao Seeger, perform during the ‘ We Are One: Opening Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial’ in Washington, in this Jan. 18, 2009 file photo.

School board offers apology to singer Pete Seeger


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nearly a half century ago, amid suspicion and fears of McCarthyism, folk singer Pete Seeger faced an ultimatum from the San Diego school district: Sign an oath against communism or cancel a concert he planned at a high school auditorium.

Seeger, who at the time of the board’s demand was under scrutiny for his leftist politics, refused to sign the oath. A judge allowed the concert to proceed anyway.

Decades later, the school board wants to make amends. In a resolution approved Tuesday night, the school district declared that the board "deeply regrets its predecessors’ actions" and offered an apology to a man who has become "one of our dearest national treasures."

The 89-year-old songwriter appears willing to accept the board’s apology, saying the board’s resolution is a "measure of justice that our right to freedom of expression has been vindicated."

He also quipped that the board’s demand for the oath in 1960 may have helped his career.

"This was the contradiction the poor blacklisters faced: The more they tried to target me the more they drummed up publicity for my concerts," Seeger told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his home in Beacon, N.Y. "I like to misquote Thomas Jefferson in saying, ‘The price of liberty is eternal publicity.’"

Seeger co-wrote "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?", "If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)" and "Turn, Turn, Turn!" He popularized traditional tunes such as "We Shall Overcome," "Goodnight, Irene" and "John Henry," which are now part of the canon of American music.

Seeger was scheduled to perform at Hoover High School in May 1960 when the board ordered him to pledge that the concert would not be used to promote a communist agenda or an overthrow of the government.

Seeger, who had been under indictment for not answering questions from a congressional committee about whether he had communist ties, said he refused to sign the pledge because he wanted to stand up to McCarthyism.

"It’s worth remembering how hysterical people felt back then," he said.

Seeger, who dropped out of the Communist Party in 1949, spent years playing underground at schools and small venues because he was blacklisted and unwelcome at larger entertainment venues.

The local American Legion heard that Seeger was planning to play at Hoover High School’s auditorium and pressured the school board to act. The board then ordered Seeger to sign the oath or cancel the concert.

"I was used to things like this, way back in what I call the Frightened ’50s. They were dangerous times," Seeger said.

Two days before the concert, attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union filed a last-minute court motion asking for an injunction against the school district. They argued that the oath interfered with Seeger’s civil liberties after he had already signed a contract with the district.

"It was all political," Louis Katz, one of two ACLU lawyers who represented Seeger, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The judge agreed and signed an order on a Saturday morning, just hours before the concert was scheduled to begin for 1,400 fans.

School board member Katherine Nakamura, who wrote the apology resolution, said that seeing Seeger on television singing before President Barack Obama’s inauguration last month inspired her to right the decades-old wrong.

Seeger and Bruce Springsteen sang "This Land Is Your Land," a song written by his friend Woody Guthrie, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

"It just seemed to me to be the right thing to do, and I had an opportunity to do it," Nakamura said after the meeting, where she and fellow board members voted 5-0 for the resolution. "You don’t always get a chance to reflect on these things and the way they might have been or should have been."

The resolution also invited Seeger to return to San Diego to perform.

Seeger said if he could sing for the school board, he’d sing "Take it from Dr. King," a song from his latest album, "At 89," which won a Grammy on Sunday for Best Traditional Folk Album.

From Discover The Networks:


… In 1932 Pete Seeger became a subscriber to the Communist monthly publication The New Masses. As a young teen he aspired to a career in journalism, but by age seventeen he had decided to pursue a music career instead…

By 1940, Seeger was an accomplished musician who sang at many leftist political events. That year, he met the singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie at a benefit concert for migrant workers. Soon thereafter, he and Guthrie… formed the Almanac Singers, one of the first folk music groups organized for mainly political purposes…

All of the Almanac Singers’ members were involved with leftist political organizations, including the Communist Party (CP). In 1941 (not long after the signing of the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact), they recorded a series of "Songs for John Doe," which echoed the CP’s official positions and exhorted listeners to oppose American involvement in the war against Hitler’s Germany. The group performed at many union meetings and fundraising events for CP front groups.

In 1942 Seeger formally joined the Communist Party. A staunch defender of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, he saw himself as one of the Party’s "artists in uniform" whose activism was rooted in the notion that "songs are weapons."

In 1945 Seeger became the national director of People’s Songs, Inc, an organization designed to "create, promote and distribute songs of labor and the American People." Within a few years, the California Senate Fact-finding Committee reported that:

"People’s Songs is a vital Communist front … one which has spawned a horde of lesser fronts in the fields of music, stage entertainment, choral singing, folk dancing, recording, radio transcriptions and similar fields. It especially is important to Communist proselytizing and propaganda work because of its emphasis on appeal to youth, and because of its organization and technique to provide entertainment for organizations and groups as a smooth opening wedge for Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist propaganda."

Seeger parted ways with the Communist Party in 1950 and eventually renounced strict Stalinism, in favor of socialism and pro-labor activism…

In 1955 Seeger was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee, whose questions about his past Communist ties he answered evasively or not at all. The following year Seeger was indicted for contempt of Congress. In 1961 he was found guilty of that charge and was sentenced to ten years in prison, though in 1962 his conviction was overturned on a technicality

In 2002 Seeger was a signatory to the "Statement of Conscience" crafted by Not In Our Name, a project of C. Clark Kissinger’s Revolutionary Communist Party. This document condemned not only the Bush administration’s "stark new measures of repression," but also its "unjust, immoral, illegitimate, [and] openly imperial policy towards the world."

In the months prior to the 2003 war in Iraq, Seeger appeared as a guest speaker and performer at numerous peace rallies across the United States. He supported the activities of such high-profile anti-war leaders as Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange and Leslie Cagan of United For Peace and Justice

Today, Seeger speaks plainly about his former involvement with the Communist Party and admits some regrets. "My father," he has said, "…got me into the Communist movement. He backed out around ’38. I drifted out in the ’50s. I apologize for following the party line so slavishly, for not seeing that Stalin was a supremely cruel misleader."

Still, Seeger acknowledges his support of Marxist principles. "I still call myself a communist," he said in 1995, "because communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it."

In 2000, Seeger reiterated: "I am still a Communist." And in an interview with Mother Jones magazine four years later, he elaborated: "I’m still a communist, in the sense that I don’t believe the world will survive with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer."

By the way, these tiding are being joyously trumpeted by the CPUSA’s People’s Weekly World.

It looks like the High School was right after all.

This article was posted by Steve on Thursday, February 12th, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

4 Responses to “School District Apologizes To Pete Seeger”

  1. Colonel1961 says:

    A pinko commie gets an apology from a pinko commie school board in a pinko commie state – what am I missing?

  2. The song “If I Had a Hammer” was originally “If I Had a Hammer and a sickle,” but it shortened to reflect the shortening of the song’s end verse which went like this

    If I had a Sickle
    I’d sling it in the morning
    I’d sling it in the evening
    All over this land
    I’d sling out danger
    I’d sing out bloodshed
    I’d sling out love between my brothers and my sisters
    Even if, They didn’t demand

    Promoters at the time thought it might draw too many conclusions about Seeger’s political leanings.

  3. Liberals Demise says:

    Where and when will the American public get an apology from the sick and twisted Left Pinko Demonic purveyurs of so-called love and rightousness?
    I know I’ll be waiting till “Hell Freezes Over” but I got time!

  4. 1sttofight says:

    Well that sure explains his singing at Duhones coronation.

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